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Notes on the Geography of Spain: Cordoba: the Mesquita: Photo 8

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The walls came later, with the conversion to a church, and they explain why the interior of the old mosque is now so dark.  In addition to daylight, the mosque had over 200 chandeliers with seven thousand cups of oil. Al-Makkari, who describes the mosque at great length, gives appallingly minute details about such things as the oil consumption of the lamps and the quantities of cotton used for wicks. He then concludes with a cautious, "But God only knows."

At first, under Abdel Rahman I, the mosque consisted of arcades forming 11 naves and 12 bays--all told, 110 columns covering an area of about 70 meters by 70 meters.  In 848, Abdel Rahman II extended the length of the arcades by pushing the qibla wall back by a distance of eight arches and almost doubling the number of columns, to 200.  In 961 Al-Hakim II pushed the qibla wall an additional 12 arches still farther back, increasing the number of columns to 320 and adding the famous mihrab, or prayer niche.  In 987, al-Mansur, who served two caliphs, added another eight naves, creating a mosque of 544 columns covering an area of 130 by 115 meters.  The view here is down a bay, perpendicular to the naves and intervening arcades. 

Ford, ever acerbic, comments on the scavenging that had brought columns here from Spain, France, North Africa, even Constantinople.  Many were too long; rather than being cut, they were deeply buried, prompting Ford to comment that the Muslims treated the columns the way Procrustes treated men.

They also could treat men that way. The story of Moorish Spain is often framed as a study of Muslim tolerance, but the expansion built by al-Mansur was, according to al-Maqqari, "rendered still more meritorious by the circumstance of Christian slaves from Castile and other infidel countries working in chains at the building, instead of the Moslems, thus exalting the true religion and trampling down polytheism." (Christians are often considered polytheists by Muslims, who deny the divinity of Christ and consider the Trinity a species of shirk, or polytheism.)

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